Principles and Practices

By Ron Kurtz

Though your view is higher than the sky,
keep your deeds finer than barley flour.
— Padmasambhava (1)



Nonviolence shows up as not pushing your agendas, leaving silences when the client needs silences, and by changing what you’re doing to accommodate what’s happening for the client, what “wants to happen”. It also shows by not pushing yourself, not trying too hard. Your nonviolence makes mindfulness easier for the client and encourages trust.

Being present

Being present could be a principle.  It shows up as focusing on present experience and not reacting to stories the client may be telling, and by not entering into speculation, interpretation and explanation.  It shows up in tracking and noticing indicators, all the nonverbal aspects of the client’s expression that indicate attitudes and beliefs. It is also knowing what you are experiencing in the moment. It is being aware of and able to respond to subtle changes that the client may not even be aware of.


Organicity is about the essential qualities of living beings: complexity, organization, adaptive capacity, sensitivity, movement, internality, consciousness and having a self of a particular nature.  It’s about being alive. (We deal with the products of the world’s tendency to generate parts out of wholes made up of units connected together by communication. It is this that makes the body a living thing, which acts as if it had a mind —which indeed it does. — Gregory Bateson) It is the attempt to understand the essential differences between living beings and mechanical devices. (2) It shows up in therapy as respect for the other as a whole, complex, sensitive being, with a true interior: feelings, needs, preferences and ideas. It shows itself in not molding the client to the process, but just the opposite. (3) We are part of the unfolding processes, but we are not the sole makers of it. It is an interaction where the client’s needs and experiences as primary. As Lao Tzu has it, the best leader follows. Organicity shows up as a deep awareness of the other’s freedom to be and to chose. Without a sense of the client’s organicity, we wouldn’t know that we are only a small part of the change process and that much of what happens is what the client is making happen out of his or her own courage, will and sensitivity. Honoring that is organicity.


Unity is the principle that rejects separation and embraces connection and interdependence. (4)

It is a sense of connection that derives from such things as limbic resonance, mirror neurons, oxytocin and the social engagement system. It shows up in therapy through the therapists wordless understanding of the client’s experience and the powerful influence of the therapist’s state of mind on the client’s process. It shows up when the therapist feels what the client is feeling. It is shared pain and sympathetic joy. It shows up as the ability to create cooperation and intimacy.

Mind-Body Wholeness

Mind-body wholeness is the principle that asserts the unity of mind and body.
It shows up in therapy through the extensive interrelating of bodily sensations, gestures, etc., and their connection to beliefs, memories and emotions. It shows up as the therapist’s constant tracking of nonverbal expressions and his or her understanding these as expressions of the mind.


Mindfulness is self-observing without interference. It shows up in all those little experiments that help make the unconscious conscious. It shows as a preference for quiet and acceptance, for understanding and consciousness rather than power and force, and as a deep desire for freedom.

Being loving

Being loving is another principle. Loving kindness, generosity, ease, acceptance, understanding, lightness, playfulness, sympathy, humor—all are parts of being loving and all show up in therapy.


From all this, we can surmise what the practices must be:

Paying constant attention to present experience, avoiding the trance of abstraction and conversation and tracking nonverbal expressions

Consciousness is limited. The habits that support ordinary conversation are very old and stable. New habits, which take the focus away from thinking about and responding to what is being said to noticing all kinds of nonverbal expressions, should be practiced.

Creating a sense of spaciousness as the context for the relationship.

Patience and acceptance of the client’s way of being allow the necessary time and freedom for the client to begin to express deeper and deeper aspects of himself or herself. Noticing what wants to happen and having the ability to easily change direction within the process, based on what the client needs at any given moment, should be practiced. Cultivating comfort with long silences is also good.

Support for mindfulness through recognizing the different states of mind of the client.

Interactions with a client in mindfulness requires a quieter, more delicate manner of speaking and timing. The emotional connection with the client is at once more intimate and somehow less personal. It is a matter of speaking to someone who is not primarily focused on you, but on himself or herself. So, we must speak without interrupting that internal, passive focus of attention which is mindfulness.

Cultivating your own loving state of mind that can be felt by the client at the deeper levels of his or her mind.

Practice finding things about the client that inspire your caring or just make you feel good, the less abstract the better. Clients were all once innocent children, in need of love and protection. The signs of those needs can still be seen in almost everyone. Respond to those.

Seeing meaning in nonverbal expressions and the nonverbal confirmations of verbal expressions.

We are searching for the beliefs that inform the client’s reality in order to help bring the nonconscious ones into consciousness, not by interpretation, but by experiments in mindfulness. For that, we have to create hypotheses about what those beliefs are and for that, we must be able to read meaning into nonverbal behaviors and to create nonverbal experiments out of verbal ideas. (“…. only a radical change in what the world means to us would constitute a change in what the world is.” —David Bohm) We are helping clients to change their realities and for that we need to change what their world means. So, we have to practice getting meanings from the ordinary flow of human exchange.

Becoming who we are.

Your own growth into full personhood is the main practice. Nietzsche said, “become who you are!” Similarly, Dolly Parton said, “Know who you are and do it on purpose!” These are wise injunctions. Learn about yourself as you practice. Gather the deep experiences that therapy promotes. Treasure the understanding of yourself and others that emerge. Take chances! Be an active, intimate part of every session. For all of this that you do, you will receive… a life of warmth and wakefulness.


  1. “Understand the expression’ finer than barley flour’ to mean to adopt what is virtuous and avoid what is evil, with respect for the law of cause and effect, with attention to the smallest detail.” This, and the quote above, are from Integrating View and Conduct by Tulku Urgyen Rimpoche, found in The Dzogchen Primer edited by Marcia Binder Schmidt.
  2. Somehow, out of the deterministic levels of chemistry and physics, a property called “being alive” emerges and another called “being conscious and having a self” emerges in some organisms, including humans. These ideas are not so simple: self, consciousness. They are debated as vigorously now as they have ever been. The greatest gains in understanding them is coming from neurology. I would recommend two books: Phantoms in the Brain by V.S. Ramachandran and i of the vortex by Rudolpho Llinás.
  3. When someone recommended to Bonnie Bostrum a client and told her that the client had cancer and would have to do some “rage” work, Bostrum replied, “We will only do what unfolds naturally. Maybe anger will come up, but maybe it won’t. We really don’t know what will come up.”
  4. This is showing up in physics as an essential characteristic of reality.

With permission, excerpts from writings of Ron Kurtz.
© 2007 Ron Kurtz Trainings, Inc.